Although it may sound a little like heresy, cruising is not about sailing. Long term cruisers spend 90% of the time attached to land in some way and only 10% sailing between stops. The real fascination of cruising is that it allows you time to really get to know the area, its people, culture, food, and language ("Hello," Goodbye, "" Yes, "" No, "" Please, "" Thank you, "" Where's the bathroom? "and" Give him the bill, "are necessary words in every country.).
The cruisers who do not venture away from the immediate vicinity of their boat and confine their personal interaction to other cruisers, certainly save money, but they miss almost the true joys of cruising – experiencing people, places and cultures and doing that by immersion, as much as that is possible, given your necessarily different lifestyle and background.
We found that hiring a car, then getting totally lost, was absolutely the best way. Many roads are so rutted and pot-holed that slow travel is necessary, giving time to exchange pleasantries with the locals, smile, wave, help with the washing, and mind the baby. Carole walks over all bridges not made of reinforced concrete, thereby providing another excuse for pleasant exchanges with the bewildered (Why walk when you do not have to?) Onlookers.
Driving in Italy is made very simple by the excellent road sign systems, and road maps. On the maps, blue roads are freeways, red are first class, and yellow and white are the less quality roads. Scenic roads have a green shading. Signals are also consistent, country wide. Directions to freeways are green, to first class roads, blue, and to other classes, white. Therefore, to get a blue road, you follow the green signs, and to get the red road, follow the blue signs – what could be simpler? Most of the scenic roads are yellow or white, so to get a green road, follow the white signs. Local sights, such as temples, are indicated by brown signs. Do not be color-blind in Italy.
French roads were not as well marked as those in Italy, but the same basic traffic and parking rules still applied. In a city, the French seem to think that, once they had provided the initial signs to get us started in the right direction, little further was required. This introduced us to the Friendly French Driver (FFD). Every time we were slow away from the lights, or slowed at an intersection, to see if there was some semblance of a directional indication, several FFD's immediately began to provide assistance by flashing lights, blowing horns, shouting, and waving hands. Unfortunately, probably because of the physical constraints imposed by small cars, the finger pointing out the direction for us to go moved in an upward direction, so they were of little help.
Then there is the shopping. The big problem with the local markets in most countries is that their fruit and vegetables are so fresh and full of flavor that, when the cruising is over, the pallid offers in the US supermarkets seem almost inedible. Perhaps the experience of selecting the produce with the help of the vendor (most of whom think a male simply does not know a durian from a mangosteen), then haggling over the price and beating the vendor down to less than twice what a local would pay (39 cents instead of 20 cents for a watermelon), makes everything taste better.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Italy and Spain have the best produce markets, but markets are the local source of everything. One Indonesian market covered several acres and was made up of hundreds of stalls and people selling produce from trays on the floor, accessed by a network of alleyways, all shadowy, with bright blades of occasional sunlight. Shoes, furniture, every spice known, electronic toys, petrol, rice, chilies, fruit, vegetables, fish (dried, salted and fresh), meat (un-refrigerated, dismal looking and smelling), cloth and clothing, kitchen utensils, satay (You had to step over the braziers it was cooking on, so dust had to be a major condiment.), And unidentified things wrapped in banana leaves. Carole did not want to leave, not because she was buying, but because of the excitation of being in such a place.
Eating ashore in many places, Indonesia for one, was far cheaper than cooking on board, and more of an adventure. Was that snake we just ate, or dog, or perhaps (as Ryan (9) wished for) rat? We were sick only once, and that was from eating at a McDonalds in Egypt – how exotic can you get?